Slater drew criticism for abandoning Queensland’s famed “pick and stick” philosophy when he recalled Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at the expense of Maroons great Dane Gagai.
The selection of Reece Walsh over Kalyn Ponga, who scored a solo try to seal victory for Queensland in the 2022 decider, was also whacked.
AS IT HAPPENED: State of Origin 2023 Game I
But Tabuai-Fidow, playing in the centres, registered 147 run metres, made a linebreak and scored a double, including a try that pinched back the lead for Queensland with six minutes remaining.
Walsh, installed as Queensland fullback, also repaid the faith shown by Slater, handling the NSW kicking superbly and setting up a Selwyn Cobbo try with a bold and quick-thinking cut-out ball.
“They were super, weren’t they?” Slater said of Tabuai-Fidow and Walsh on the Nine broadcast.
“I think when you look at a number, and a lot of people just looked at seven changes from game three last year, you can really sensationalise a stat to set your narrative.
“We had Cameron Munster and Murray Taulagi get COVID in the third game … There’s two.
“Jeremiah Nanai … He was a guy that was suspended for game one this year. Felise Kaufusi was suspended. So we’ve had players out. Josh Papalii retired.
“Hamiso was fantastic. When there was a big moment that Queensland needed, he pulled the trigger.
Watch the 2023 State of Origin series LIVE and exclusive on Channel 9 and 9Now
“Cameron Munster was great.
“And I thought the fullback (Walsh) … He played really tough, he attacked the high ball and he was there when Queensland needed him, as well.”
But Slater admitted to feeling torn following the win, making it clear the Maroons were not at their best.
“There’s so much room for improvement and that’s probably the side of me that sits on the fence on the performance,” Slater said.
Hammer stuns NSW with individual brilliance
“But tonight’s not looking at the improvement, tonight’s just enjoying the courage this team showed.
“I look at all Queenslanders. I’m sure there’s 5.3 million Queenslanders sitting up there really proud of their footy team here tonight. This team is a real inspiration to our state and the people of our state. They love their footy team, the Queenslanders, and I’m sure they’re really proud of them tonight.”
Reuben Cotter, who was shifted from the bench to the front row as Slater made a late change, tallied 84 run metres and made 48 tackles to be awarded man of the match.
The Blues must win at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on July 21 to keep the series alive.
The Maroons will retain the Origin shield if they win in Brisbane, having won the 2022 series 2-1.
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